WASHINGTON -- This year's small crossover segment is very competitive -- and the Toyota RAV4 is giving other cars in its class a run for their money.
Toyota is No. 4 in the small crossover market and close to taking the No. 3 spot from Chevrolet. Though other sellers are on the larger end, the Toyota RAV4 has the space of its competitors with a few nice touches to help it stand out.
I spent a week with the $32,679 RAV4 Limited AWD, the top trim level. It comes with a standard power moon roof, heated eight-way power front seats and reclining rear seats. The interior space is a big plus for this vehicle, with good room for passengers in the rear. Seating gets tight for the rear passenger if there are two car seats in the back, though.
Still, the interior looks very upscale, with two-tone seats and a dash with soft touch materials. It's nice to see Toyota step up the RAV4's inside.
My tester also came with the Entune JBL audio with touch screen navigation and backup camera; the Bluetooth hookup was rather easy to pair with my phone. The Entune app suite is new to the RAV4, and you can use it in conjunction with your smartphone. Unfortunately, my phone didn't work. (Note to self: It's time for an upgrade.)
Surprisingly, the new RAV4 offers only the 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine. The V6 engine is no longer an option, but most buyers will find 176 horsepower enough for most situations. During my time with it, the RAV4 never felt under-powered.
The six-speed automatic transmission does a nice job of accelerating smoothly. It shifts quickly, which helps with the fuel economy. Speaking of the mpgs, the RAV4 is rated 22 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. I could only muster 23.1 mpg, in a mix of city and highway, driving more than 171 miles.
In the end, driving the RAV4 was a pleasant experience. It isn't sporty like some of its competitors, but it's a competent driver and comfortable for a daily commute or on a long trip.
I did notice a bit of road noise in the cabin at highway speed, which was a little louder than last week's ride. Maybe it's the larger 18-inch wheels on the Limited trim level. In that case, it might be worth driving another trim level RAV4 with smaller wheels. I noticed the AWD is quick to send power to the correct wheels when the weather was dicey with heavy storms; the RAV4 handled the road's sand and mud with no problem.
Safety is key, of course, and the optional technology package delivers blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert -- a real help when pulling out of those tricky spots. But while the RAV4 received an overall four-star safety rating, it only received three stars for the passenger in a frontal crash. The RAV4 received a five-star safety rating for how it handles side crashes.
So, while the 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD is in a tough small crossover segment, it has size and a comfortable drive going for it. Toyota made minor upgrades for 2014, but it helps the company keep pace with the hottest segment. The numbers don't lie.
Editor's note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event solutions for the purpose of this review.
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